JIM LEHRER: Now, how a war in Iraq would affect its neighbor, Iran. Elizabeth Farnsworth reports from Tehran. A note: She is required by Iranian law to wear a headscarf.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Iran is not always what it seems. At the weekly prayer service in Tehran, led by top government officials, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi denounced President Bush and the U.S. campaign against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. "Death to America," the audience chanted in response. "Death to America." But across town, at the centuries-old Tehran bazaar, some people expressed another view. Several approached us and said quietly off camera that they love America. "Best wishes to America," this woman shouted, "best wishes to you."
There are other surprises, too, this chorus rehearsing a Vivaldi "Gloria," for example, part of the Catholic Mass. Music was frowned on in the early days of the Islamic revolution here, but the restrictions are loosening up, especially on traditional songs.
Iran is a mass of contradictions. And people's reactions to a possible U.S. War against Iraq can be confusing, too. Iran was attacked by Saddam Hussein in 1980, and fought an eight-year war that left hundreds of thousands dead and many more wounded, some from chemical weapons. The country was repeatedly bombarded, destroying homes, mosques, and neighborhoods. Nevertheless, Iran is officially opposed to the U.S. war. In a rally just outside Tehran on Tuesday, Pres. Mohammad Khatami explained why.
PRES. MOHAMMAD KHATAMI (Translated): Why are we against war with Iraq? Why are we against a military invasion? We have been harmed by Iraq more than anyone else. Saddam's first chemical weapons were tested on our soldiers and our nation. We have been harmed by Saddam's regime, but we oppose a military invasion of Iraq, because the impending threat of war is much more dangerous than the dictatorship.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The president is a reformist in the Iranian political context, but on this subject, there is agreement among reformists and conservatives alike. Javad Larijani is deputy chief justice and a central member of the conservative camp.
JAVAD LARIJANI: I should tell you very frankly that in no way we have any sympathy with Saddam Hussein and the Baathist regime. For us, the removal of this regime is the best news, not only for Iran, but for all the countries in the region. But the point is that, how it should be done and what will be the aftermath. We are very much afraid that American total reliance on force may not be the suitable way.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And in the bazaar, we heard similar views.
BABAK AZIMI: I think you can solve the problems by, not by war. It's very stupid.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: These men were upset because they believe America helped Saddam Hussein in the war, even as he was using chemical weapons against Iran. We heard these charges often here.
People are familiar with American news reports, quoting declassified documents which reveal that the U.S. shared intelligence with Iraq during the time Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iran. American officials also reportedly facilitated Iraqi purchases of chemical and biological substances that could be used militarily.
Many of the victims of Iran's war with Iraq are buried here. There are graves of young men killed by poison gas, graves of brothers, a grave of a boy only 14 years old. On this day, a family was mourning the anniversary of the death of a son, who was 20 when he was killed. His brother tenderly cleaned the tombstone, while the family offered food to visitors, which is customary here when honoring the dead. I asked the sisters whether they support a U.S. invasion of Iraq, given the fact that Iraqis were responsible for their brother's death.
MALIEH PAJOHI (Translated): They are also Moslems and human beings. We don't want war in any country, not only Iraq.
SAMIMEH PAJOHI (Translated): There are Shiites living in Iraq. We feel this war would inflict the most damage on the Shiites.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Shiite connection, the strongest link between Iran and Iraq, is crucial to understanding Iran's actions in the face of a possible war in Iraq, and that connection was evident during a visit to Dawlat Abad, a neighborhood of Iraqi refugees in south Tehran.
Since 1980, more than one million Iraqis have fled to Iran, and an estimated 400,000 remain, most of them in Tehran. In Dawlat Abad, people worship at a mosque with a replica of a revered Iraqi Shiite shrine.
About 60 percent of Iraqis are Shiite Muslims, though Saddam Hussein and most of those who rule alongside him are Sunni. Most of Iran is Shiite, and there have been close ties for hundreds of years among the Shiites of the region.
These Iraqi women said that they also oppose a U.S. invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein, though they have plenty of reasons to want him gone. They were all deported or fled from Iraq. Most lost a husband or brother fighting Saddam Hussein. Some have relatives in prisons and are desperate to find them.
WOMAN ( Translated ): America, and other countries, made Saddam powerful. They gave him the weapons he now has. Now they want to disarm him. They made him powerful. The victims caught in the middle of this mess are the Iraqi people.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think? Do you think there will be a war, and what do you think if there is a war?
WOMAN ( Translated ): We don't want war. The only concern we have is that the Iraqi people be safe. There should be no casualties. We want all Iraqis to be safe, whether they're Arabs or Kurds or from the North or South. We want to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but without foreign intervention.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Entisar Mehdi Mousawi said her husband was disabled by poison gas in 1984, during the Iran/Iraq War. She invited us to her home. Life for her family is tough, she said, because her husband is often driven almost mad with skin rashes caused by the poison gas and he has trouble keeping a job. He's Iraqi, but he fought on Iran's side in the war as part of the BADR brigade, an Iraqi guerrilla group trained and supported by Iran.
ABBAS AL WAEZ ( Translated ): My body swelled. They took me the hospital, gave me an injection, and the swelling went down, but the chemical remained and spread throughout my body.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The BADR brigade that Mr. Abbas al Waez was fighting with when he was wounded has up to 10,000 troops and is the military wing of one of the key Iraqi opposition groups, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, which provided this video.
SCIRI is a militant Shiite group, led by an ayatollah, and based in Iran. American newspapers reported this week that hundreds of troops from the BADR brigade are openly setting up a camp in northern Iraq, and preparing to bring in several thousand more guerrillas to fight alongside Kurdish forces if and when war begins.
A foreign ministry spokesman denied any Iranian involvement with the BADR brigade in northern Iraq but Iran has facilitated the work of the Iraqi opposition here in ways both large and small. Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress maintains an office in the villa behind me paid for by the U.S. Government. And Iran has given military and other assistance to one of the Kurdish factions in control of the safe haven in northern Iraq, the patriotic union of Kurdistan. Dana Shaswar represents the PUK in Tehran.
DANA SHASWAR (Translated ): We have an old and good relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the period when the Iraqi government was attacking us, the Iranians helped us.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: He said in recent months Iran had allowed many foreign journalists to travel through here to the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. Whatever Iran is doing quietly, the official rhetoric is strongly against a U.S. invasion in defiance of world opinion.
AYATOLLAH MOHAMMAD YAZDI (Translated): This means Mr. Bush's arrogance and stubbornness are responsible for the world's moving backwards at this time. Mr. Bush says, "I have made a decision and I am not going to listen to anyone." The first and second world wars started like this. Indeed, our supreme leader has said that Hitler used to think like that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In spite of the rhetoric, there have reportedly been some informal conversations between the United States and Iran recently about Iraq. I asked the foreign ministry spokesman about that at a press conference on Monday.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Bush administration reportedly made requests at a meeting in January of Iranian officials including that Iran would not interfere with military operations if the United States invaded Iraq. Have you responded to those requests and if so, what was the response?
HAMID REZA ASEFI: We are not going to interfere, neither militarily, nor any other way in the Iraqi situation. That is our position. It is crystal-cut clear. But if the war occurs, we will fulfill our duty according to our international obligation, but in either case, we are not going to cooperate with America; we are not going to cooperate with either side.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Iran's deputy chief justice, Javad Larijani, said that Pres. Bush's designation of Iran as part of the "axis of evil" had made any kind of cooperation difficult.
JAVAD LARIJANI: I should say that America is losing a lot of opportunities with Iran. America is a victim, is captured by its paranoia with Iran. Take the case of Afghanistan. Iran's cooperation with fighting with Taliban was enormous. You know that Northern Alliance had only one single supporter during Taliban time, and it was Iran. If America puts that paranoia away, there are a good number of issues of mutual interest between Iran and the United States.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It seems peaceful in Tehran, but the country is preparing for an American invasion next door. The U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees was here today. He met with Iranian officials and toured the border to oversee preparations for an expected hundreds of thousands of new Iraqi refugees.